It's been hard, in a nation with as much going for it as the United States over the last 230 years, not to think of ourselves in a pretty self-confident manner. We've even handled hardships and difficulties well. Whether those problems came from on high (insurance companies call them "acts of God"), from somewhere else on the globe, or from our own making, we Americans have just about always had the resources and inner sturdiness to rebound and make things right again.
Take a look at each of the three categories:
(1) Our sense for years was that we'd get deadly tornadoes here but only moderate earthquakes and hurricanes; God seemed to send the big quakes and tsunamis to Asia, where deaths came not by the dozens or the hundreds but by the thousands and tens of thousands. That happened through our lifetimes with such predictability that we came to think that the light touch was our due. And the repairs, thank you very much, were something we could take care of ourselves. We are still the first, biggest, and best in extending aid around the globe when natural disasters strike in far-off places.
(2) When stormy weather comes not directly from the hand of God, but from brutal dictators or nations with evil agendas, the United States has always been similarly ready in its response. Whether such threats have come from the fascist right or from the communist left, the U.S. answer has always been wrapped in what seemed like an unarguably righteous cause and an indomitable military force. That's why, without a hint of self-consciousness, our society could gobble up a book like Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation as if it were gospel truth. There may be a few things we don't know about ourselves-but of this we are confident: We're not only great, but the greatest.
(3) Even with our self-inflicted or internal wounds, we've done pretty well. Take the War Between the States, for example-or the Great Depression. Both were terribly hard knocks. But most folks also tend to think we came out on this end of both ordeals with an enhanced identity as "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Our confidence has historically been strengthened, not weakened, through such challenges.
Is all that changing? Almost certainly so. You simply can't be exposed in five short years to 9/11, to a spendthrift Congress and a veto-less president who have doubled our national debt, to a Supreme Court's ratification of partial-birth abortion, to state-sanctioned marriage ceremonies for homosexuals, to Hurricane Katrina and the virtual demise of a major American city, to daily suicide car bombers in Baghdad, to an inability again to nail down victory in what seemed like a winnable war, and to the reversion of many Latin American governments to Marxist socialism-you just can't be exposed to all that (and more) and still keep your old swagger. Nor should you.
None of that "out there" stuff, though, unnerves me the way a simple little news item from my own North Carolina setting has done me in. A 22-year-old woman, a teacher's aide in a county high school, was arrested after becoming sexually involved with an 18-year-old male student in the school. It was unsettling partly because this was the third time in the county system this school year that a trusted adult had been charged with sexual activity with a student.
That, in turn, encouraged our local daily newspaper-part of the national Gannett chain that promotes "diversity" everywhere it can-to do a poll of its readers. "Should it be a crime," the newspaper asked, "for a high school educator to have consensual sex with a student older than the age of 18?" If merely asking the question wasn't startling enough, the response of readers ought to stand the American public on its ear. "Yes," said just 41.9 percent of the respondents, "such behavior should be considered as criminal." But "No," said all the rest-more than 58 percent; in effect, they blew off the questioner by asking back, "What business is that of ours?"
So the question isn't anymore whether we can preserve the republic and the society and the culture we once had. The question is whether we even want to.